Could we do better?
In the month up to Christmas those who can afford it think of gifts, cards, visiting loved ones and getting ready to celebrate Christmas Day, with lots of food, perhaps alcohol and having the Tree decorated and the presents wrapped. But let us spare a thought for those who do not have the luxury of the spend, spend, spend that is Christmas with all the razzmatazz, the never ending demands to provide at least a little extra and to have a fire and food for the family. This year more and more people are struggling to even have the basics and are disillusioned and worried because their meagre finances cannot stretch any further to partake in Christmas festivities. The scenario that is Christmas, high-lights for many, the injustices and the imbalance that is visible in life styles and expectations. Those who are better off fill their shopping trollies to overflowing with food, glitter and all sorts of needless and sometimes useless goods that are not necessary or will even be used.
If those who can afford it could only step back from the excesses that belong to the festive season and think for a moment what a little discipline in what our “wants” are, compared to the “needs” of those poor and stressed, perhaps we could share some of our resources with families who are exhausted from trying to balance a budget and add a little joy to their lives. It may mean not buying Christmas wrapping paper, cutting down on all the food of which much will certainly be wasted and sharing and giving to a local charity such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The extra saving that would be painlessly made could add to the lives of those who are poor and would not be missed from those who shop to excess.
Christmas time adds to the burdens of those on the margins and we have many in our country today who are forced into a position of being on the breadline through no fault of their own. We accept that those who live in a household where no one is at work are poor, but a worrying new statistic by Social Justice Ireland state that 14.2% of people at risk of poverty have a job but earn less than 11,000 euro per annum. Next on the list are students and people with low levels of education. Deprivation is an acknowledgement that people cannot afford to heat their house, have a warm coat or buy meat.
The Central Statistic Office found that 25% of people in Ireland don’t have the money to have at least two services or goods which is generally considered normal for other people in society, placing them in the deprived category.
Where does that leave people who must now pay property tax, not to mention water charges that are now coming on stream. It is no wonder so many are on the streets protesting and as many have spoken openly about their plight, they do not have the money to pay any more taxes or added costs, be that electricity or fuel or the new and onerous taxes being expected from them.
The SILC survey done this, the last week in November 2014, have also found that after interviewing 11,000 people across the state, as well as evidence based data, that 750,000 of our citizens live very close to the breadline.
Where are all these citizens going to turn for assistance when they have not the income to pay for everyday necessities? The Voluntary Charitable organisations will be asked to step in to provide the daily needs of families, single men and women who live alone and those depending on Social Welfare. There is a constant demand right across the country to every conference of the St. Vincent de Paul for help to alleviate the distress and the anxiety that has so many of our citizens bewildered and feeling isolated and forgotten.
Justice is not being delivered when charity must take the place of what should be a just and caring society with a basic income level to meet their needs. Our leaders and those that make the decision as to what is the lowest income that a person needs to survive are all well aware that what they pay in social welfare payments fall far short of even their own estimates. So where do the poor go from here?
Ireland is considered a charitable nation, but people who never had to ask for help before are now in a position where they must ask for help even with the basics. This is an unacceptable position for those who are needy and who are trying their best to live a proper and upright life. So are we doing enough?
We should all examine our conscience at this demanding time of the year and put pressure on those in power to alleviate the financial stresses that are being placed on our neighbours and friends and to find an alternative way to balance the budget that always appear to favour the wealthy and strong.
Thanks is also due at this time of the year to all the volunteers in the St. Vincent de Paul Society for their continuous hard work, their tenacity and their generosity of spirit. May the Lord reward each and every one with showers of blessings in their lives.
Peg Hanafin, MSc. 30/11/2014